The NFL Season kicks off on Thursday night with the Steelers hosting the Titans. To prepare for what is already being dubbed the most anticipated season since the fifth installment of The Wire, we’ll be doing a full-blown (and probably overwrought) NFL Preview Bonanza, including looks at each division, predictions for every team (that actually add up), and, in true NPI fashion, rankings.
A common thread in sports discussion is the significance of a coach. Most people downplay the role of a manager in baseball, except when it’s Joe Torre or Bobby Cox. Most people downplay the role of a coach in basketball, except when it’s Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich. And don’t even get me started on hockey, where I’m pretty sure the longest-tenured head coach was hired last summer.*
*I mean, teams ROUTINELY win the Stanley Cup after making midseason coaching changes. ROUTINELY.
Nobody downplays the role of the football coach, though. Football is the sport where the importance of the coach is never overlooked; some of the sports’ greatest legends—men like Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, and now Bill Belichick—never strayed from the sidelines.
But what makes a good coach? A football coach has to embody that Machiavellian intersection of fear and respect. A football coach has to be cool.
The following is a ranking of the 32 NFL coaches in ascending order of coolness. Explanations, when necessary, are attempted. By the way, the picture up top is of Hank Stram, undoubtedly the coolest coach in NFL history. If you didn’t know that, don’t bother asking why.
32. Brad Childress
Brad Childress would be lame if he were a minister. Robin Williams got the creepy stalker part in One Hour Photo because Brad Childress turned it down (probably because he was busy trying to steal Air Bud back). I would watch a lot more Vikings’ football if their coach were the actual Dr. Tobias Funke.
31. Wade Phillips
Did You Know: Wade Phillips is actually an accomplished bowler on the PBA Tour. Or so it seems. Have you seen how this guy celebrates?
30. Norv Turner
29. Eric Mangini
Mangini has all the bad qualities of No. 28, except for, you know, the Super Bowls.
28. Bill Belichick
It was close between Belichick and No. 27, but Belichick left a certain game versus the other guy early, and that’s not cool.
27. Tom Coughlin
Look, as a Giants’ fan, I’ve grown to love Tommy. I hated him for a long time, but we’ve matured. But Lord knows Tom Coughlin isn’t cool. The “Coughlin time” for meetings, the boring press conferences, the basic curmudgeonry—sorry, buddy.
26. Marvin Lewis
25. Andy Reid
24. Gary Kubiak
23. Mike Smith
Mike Smith is not the coolest NFL coach with the first name Mike or the last name Smith. As the kids like to say, FAIL.
22. Dick Jauron
It’s down to Jauron and Ebersol to be the last person of note with a first name of “Dick.”
21. Mike McCarthy
20. Tony Sparano
It’s hard to rank a marionette much higher than this.
19. Jim Zorn
18. John Fox
17. Steve Spagnuolo
Spagnuolo edges out Fox to win “Coolest Former Giants’ Defensive Coordinator That Is Now a Head Coach,” taking the title from the fired Mike Nolan largely because Spagnuolo was betrothed in the Vatican, and we all know how big a fan of Catholicism I am.
16. Tom Cable
Because most coaches care enough about their public image to refrain from punching other coaches. Not Tom Cable: He’s a coach that doesn’t play by the rules.*
*Look for the TNT series about Cable next summer.
15. Josh McDaniels
I think, in the end, we’re all gonna realize he was right about Jay Cutler.
14. Todd Haley
While McDaniels waited to become a head coach to feud with a prominent player, Haley did it as an offensive coordinator and still got his team to the Super Bowl. That earns some dap.
13. Lovie Smith
12. Jim Mora, Jr.
11. Tony Dungy
Who doesn’t like Tony Dungy? What’s that? He’s not the coach of the Colts anymore? Who is? Jim Caldwell? Who’s that?
10. Rex Ryan
Because most coaches’ fathers who were head coaches in the league cared enough about public image to refrain from punching other coaches. Not Rex’s dad, Buddy. And Kevin Gilbride totally deserved it.
9. Sean Payton
Sean Payton is the only coach in the NFL not afraid to tell it like it is: Nobody really cares about defense.
8. Jim Schwartz
Not only did Jim Schwartz study up on Mike Leach’s offense while he was the Titans’ defensive coordinator in case he ever got a head coaching job, but he decided to take the Lions’ job after an 0-16 season, and that took some cojones. Most people will argue otherwise and say you can only go up from here; those people have not been exposed to Lions’ football in a decade.
7. John Harbaugh
John Harbaugh—not Jim—did the impossible last year: He made the Ravens a likable team.
6. Jack Del Rio
5. Raheem Morris
Morris is pretty much the only reason to be excited for football this season in Tampa. Give him a few years, and he could be competing for the crown (of coolness, not the Super Bowl. This team is several years away).
4. Ken Whisenhunt
Ken Whisenhunt wears a hat better than any coach in recent NFL history.
3. Jeff Fisher
Maybe it’s because he looks just like one of my favorite teachers from high school, maybe it’s the willingness to go with the playoff beard (and pull it off, Andy Reid), or maybe it’s the old-fashioned, hard-nosed style of football. Whatever it is, I want Jeff Fisher coaching my football team.
2. Mike Singletary
1. Mike Tomlin
It’s not even close. I don’t know what helped certify his ranking more: winning the Super Bowl or starring across Jesse “The Body” Ventura in Black Hammer, White Lightning. We haven’t seen a coach as cool as Mike Tomlin at least since the retirement of Sam Wyche, and we may never again. And a picture is worth a thousand words.